Posts tagged: food production

Never Forget: You Have The Right To Know What You’re Eating

Never Forget - You Have The Right To Know What You Are Eating
You Have The Right To Know What You’re Eating. Graphic © Background image © (under license)

The increasing demand for food to feed the growing masses is an on-going challenge faced by today’s society. The steadily increasing population on Earth – closing in on 8 billion fast – means that there is a constant demand for food production, a demand that will continue to increase as population increases. At the core of this demand is a need to improve food production – and that often leads to unethical, potentially dangerous ways to make sure we produce enough food to feed billions of humans. This can be summed up in a few terms: pesticides, antibiotics, and genetic modification. [1]

Use Of Pesticides In Agriculture

If you take care of plants, you will most likely be familiar with the use of pesticides and herbicides. Both are made up of chemicals designed to protect your plant or crop from unwanted insects or weeds that may damage or hinder their growth. However, the bottom line is clear: pesticides and herbicides are still made up of chemicals that are hazardous to human health.

In order to be effective, pesticides are created to be toxic; in extremely small amounts they are “considered safe for humans”, but how safe exactly? Can something that is made to kill a living organism really be safe for human consumption? According to a study by Damalas and Eleftherohorinos in 2011, while the use of pesticides is widely regarded as essential [is it? really?] to global agricultural production, strict regulations in terms of sale and use are still needed to reduce human exposure to these toxic chemicals. Ingesting significant quantities of pesticides and herbicides can cause dangerous side effects like nausea and vomiting, difficulty of breathing, mental confusion, loss of consciousness [2][3][4] – however the full consequences of the “cocktail effect” of continual assimilation of microdoses of numerous chemicals is not known. The “synergistic effects” of these chemicals has simply never been studied. Think about it: A pesticide is scientifically tested until the “safe” [again, really?] exposure level is evaluated. But the stacked exposure that we are getting to perhaps 20 or more of these chemicals simultaneously is not researched. Can you see why this might be a problem?

Antibiotic Use On Livestock

On the other side of fence, livestock is constantly bombarded with antibiotics in order to “improve” their health. Here’s the truth: antibiotics, “vitamin shots”, and other similar medical procedures all aim to prolong an animal’s life – not necessarily improve their quality of life. When you go to local wet markets or slaughterhouses, you see overweight (and old!) animals that have been pumped with so much antibiotics and steroids to get the most value per kilo of the animal. In farms where livestock like chicken, cows, and pigs are raised in tight, inhumane quarters, sickness runs rampant. Farmers often turn to antibiotics to prevent the animals from dying out. [5]

An important study was published in 2012 by Landers, et. al., highlighting a dangerous effect on humans of antibiotic use on animals – antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a public health crisis. Viruses and bacteria are getting stronger and more resistant by the minute, seemingly immune to medicine that once used to work against them. And while pointing a sole finger at farm animals is not the answer, we need to take into account that food and water intake is a major risk factor that all humans are exposed to. The more you eat meat that is laden with antibiotics and chemicals, the likelier it is that you will develop antibiotic resistance (not to mention that effects of medicine build up will have you on your body). [6]

Genetically Modified Organisms

If there is a final frontier in the problem faced by food production, it’s genetic modification. The concept of genetically modifying crops before they are planted has faced decades of criticism. A review on the impact of GMOs was published in May 2000, addressing issues faced by the practice, namely alteration in nutritional quality, possible toxicity and carcinogenicity, and antibiotic resistance. When we alter genomes in any organism, we risk influencing the entire biologic system, similar to a domino effect. There is so much more to genetics to uncover and tinkering around with genes (especially when it is meant to feed the world population) can have unintended consequences. One wrong placement in a genetic line can for example turn a plant into a very dangerous allergen, since allergenic proteins are often included when transferring genes from one organism into another. [7][8]

Food production is a constant source of debate because of the exponentially increasing demand proportional to the increasing world population. While completely avoiding GMOs, pesticide-treated crops, and non-organic meat can be difficult, it is better to be aware of what your food goes through before it hits the supermarkets’ shelves; that way you will be making an informed decision on what you feed yourself and your family.


[1] The World Bank. Population, total.

[2] Damalas, C. & Eleftherohorinos, G. (2011). Pesticide Exposure, Safety Issues, and Risk Assessment Indicators.

[3] Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. OSH Answers Fact Sheets: Pesticides – Health Effects.

[4] PennState Extension. Potential Health Effects of Pesticides.

[5] PETA. Factory Farming: Misery for Animals.

[6] Landers, T., et. al. (2012). A Review of Antibiotic Use in Food Animals: Perspective, Policy, and Potential.

[7] Uzogara, S. (2000). The impact of genetic modification of human foods in the 21st century: A review.

[8] Virginia Cooperative Extension (2000). Scientific Basis of Risks Associated with Transgenic Crops.

Do People That Eat Margarine Really Know How It’s Manufactured?

Do People That Eat Margarine Really Know How It's Manufactured
Do People That Eat Margarine Really Know How It’s Manufactured?. Graphic: ©

Ever wondered how your favorite margarine is manufactured? Brace yourselves for a shock as there’s nothing natural about the process – well, aside from the initial raw materials.

Soybeans, corn, cottonseed, or canola seeds are sent to a crushing mill, where the oil is removed from the seeds or beans either by extraction or expulsions. Any remaining oil is removed using hexane and other solvents.

The crude oil – which is a dark golden color – needs neutralization. This process removes any fatty acids. If left untouched, these fatty acids would cause an unpleasant taste to develop. This is then washed and dried thoroughly. The oil is then bleached, which is to remove both color and any present impurities. The completion of this process comes via the use of a special form of absorbent earth. This earth is then filtered out carefully after bleaching.

After this oil modification is complete, the oil is stripped of any odors and taste. This is done by blowing steam through the heated oil. The steam, smells and taste are removed by a vacuum. This leaves the oil tasteless and devoid of any smell with a light brown color. At this point, the oil can be bottled and sold off as vegetable oil. This oil is then used in the making of margarine and other spreads.

Either hydrogenation, rearrangement and fractionation modify the oil, making it harder. Depending on the manufacturer, artificial flavors, color and synthetic vitamins are added. The mixture is then packaged in blocks or tubs for sale.

Please note that this content should never be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.

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Do People That Eat Margarine Really Know How It's Manufactured
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MSG Is Hiding Under Different Names, Even In Your Favorite ‘All-Natural’ Foods

MSG Is Hiding Under Different Names, Even In Your Favorite ‘All-Natural’ Foods
Graphic – – MSG Image © shutterstock (under license)

One of the most controversial ingredients in food production is MSG – short for monosodium glutamate. MSG is a popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine and food preservation. If it’s in a can and meant to last or keep for a long time, it most likely has MSG. Despite the controversy on the safety of MSG, the US Food and Drug Administration remains firm on its stand: MSG is safe. However, the reality is this: MSG isn’t safe, and while a majority of the population may not be affected by its side effects, a percentage of the population can experience adverse reactions to this preservative. [1]

What is MSG?

MSG is a sodium salt of the amino acid, glutamic acid. The FDA state that glutamic acid is “naturally present in our bodies, and in many foods and food additives”. While glutamic acid is indeed naturally occurring, can one of the reasons why it is found in the body be because we eat too much food with food additives? [1]

Because there are studies that are inconclusive, the FDA has declared MSG “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS, even if a percentage of people show sensitivity to the additive. Simply put, the FDA has allowed this ingredient to be present in most foods in the market because only a small percentage of people show sensitivity or allergic reactions to it. Proven allergens like nuts need to be printed on the food label for safety purposes but no such law or rule exists for MSG. However there are other health issues with MSG.

What Science Actually Says

In 2015, a study published in October by Sharma, focused on how MSG causes oxidative kidney damage. The article reported that there have been various studies on animals that suggest that a diet high in MSG could cause kidney damage, specifically renal toxicity, through oxidative stress, or the presence of free radicals in the bloodstream. [2]

Another study in the same year, published in November by Prastiwi, Djunaidi, and Partadiredja found that high doses of MSG causes deficits on motor coordination by affecting the Purkinje cells, which are found in the brain. The researchers concluded that MSG reduced the number of brain cells, which in turn affected motor coordination. [3]

These are only two of the countless studies that mention that MSG intake can irreversibly damage our body. But because there are studies that prove otherwise, the FDA is firm in its stand of MSG’s “safety”.

Hiding in Plain Sight

According to the Mayo Clinic, the FDA has received many reports from people who displayed sensitivity to MSG. These allergic reactions called the MSG symptom complex are characterized by headaches, flushing, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness in the face, neck, and other areas, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, and weakness. The Mayo Clinic advises people who experience these symptoms to avoid food containing MSG but how can you if food companies aren’t required to declare the presence of MSG in their products? [4]

Because of the rising popularity of maintaining a “fit and healthy lifestyle”, many food manufacturers or distributors are being forced to hide MSG under different names like glutamic acid, glutamate, calcium glutamate, and so on and so forth. So how can you avoid this ingredient if it’s hidden under a different name? And if there are no repercussions when companies do so?

Here are some of the names you will find on food labels that are the same as MSG:

According to the National Institutes of Health Open Chemistry Database [5]
– Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
– MSG monohydrate
– L-glutamic acid monosodium salt monohydrate
– Sodium glutamate
– Monosodium l-glutamate monohydrate
– Sodium l-glutamate
– Sodium glutamate monohydrate
– Monosodium glutamate monohydrate
– Glutamic acid, monosodium salt, monohydrate
– L-2-aminopentanedioic acid
– L-glutamic acid and Monosodium salt
– Sodium L-glutamate hydrate

According to the FDA, MSG naturally occurs in the following ingredients: [1]
– hydrolyzed vegetable protein
– autolyzed yeast
– hydrolyzed yeast
– yeast extract
– soy extracts
– protein isolate

Other popular names for MSG
– “Vetsin”
– “Ajinomoto”
– “Umami”

Going Natural

If you really want to avoid MSG, the best way is to go all natural. That means buying fresh meat, poultry, and produce and cooking and making your own food. This way you have complete control over what you eat and what goes in your body—plus you can control how to flavor your food according to your own personal taste. Not only is this healthier, it can even cut down on costs if you know you to efficiently portion the meals you cook. Of course, cooking and preparation does take up a lot of time, but remember, ultimately your health is more important than the extra hour you spend in the kitchen cooking.


[1] US Food and Drug Administration. Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutmate.

[2] Sharma, A. (2015). Monosodium glutamate-induced oxidative kidney damage and possible mechanisms: a mini-review.

[3] Prastiwi, D., Djunaidi, A., & Partadiredja, G. (2015). High dosage of monosodium glutamate causes deficits of the motor coordination and the number of cerebellar Purkinje cells of rats.

[4] Mayo Clinic. What is MSG? Is it bad for you?

[5] National Institutes of Health. Open Chemistry Database. MSG.